DIR: John Madden • WRI: Jonathan Perera • PRO: Ben Browning, Kris Thykier, Ariel Zeitoun • DOP: Sebastian Blenkov • ED: Alexander Berner • DES: Matthew Davies • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Miss Sloane is first and foremost a Jessica Chastain vehicle. Taking on the titular role, she drives the story forward with her powerful delivery and mastery of a sometimes-wayward script. Elizabeth Sloane is an aggressive lobbyist – a job that exists in American politics, whereby ‘causes’ (or, more usually, ‘vested interests’) are argued and pushed to powerful voting Senators in government to ensure that bills live or die on their word. And Miss Sloane is very good at her job. We open, however, with Elizabeth being called before a congressional hearing led by Senator Ronald Sperling (John Lithgow) to assess whether she violated Senate ethics (such as they are!) during her time working for Cole Kravitz & Waterman – a Washington DC lobbyist firm.
The film frames a back-story around these Senate hearings, and we hop in time three months’ previous, where Elizabeth is approached by the gun lobbying platform to take on their newest attempt to block a new bill. The proposed purchasing restrictions – a so-called Heaton-Harris bill – would expand background checks on gun ownership, and the gun lobbying/gun purchasing lobby’s response to this is to specifically target women in their new push for a buying market to show resistance to the bill. So, they feel that Elizabeth’s position as both a cutthroat lobbyist and woman will give her the edge to push through their agenda. Instead, she laughs at the ridiculousness of their proposal, and takes up the offer of a rival firm, Peterson Wyatt – headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), to lobby against the gun purchasing platform, and argue for the Heaton-Harris bill. Elizabeth takes most of her staff with her when she leaves, with the exception of her put-upon assistant Jane Molloy (Alison Pill), who opts instead to stay with the powerful Cole Kravitz & Waterman firm – thereby pitting herself against her erstwhile mentor and boss.
The film untangles the complicated web of governmental twists and turns a bill takes on its way to being passed – showing the underlying duplicity of Senators as their votes are begged, borrowed and bought from both sides. Each lobbying firm pulls out all of the stops in attempting to undermine the other, and win supporters for their play. However, things quickly become personal, as a hearing is pushed forward by Elizabeth’s ex-firm to investigate possible ethics violations that took place while working with them. Meanwhile, we begin to question how far she is willing to go for her own ends – even though they might eventually justify the means – as things around her begin to unravel, with her personal and professional life showing signs of disintegration, while her every movement is dragged up before a congressional hearing. Taking advantage of personal knowledge of co-workers to ambush them for her own ends; using and abusing those who believe themselves to be her friends; and popping pills to keep her insomnia in check, she buckles under the pressure of maintaining the persona of an untouchable, and unbreakable, woman of power.
Miss Sloane is an exposé of the underbelly of American politics – though, of course, these days that’s less of a hidden world – that manages to be really entertaining and enjoyable, despite the majority of the action taking place in Senate hearings and lobbyist boardrooms. Hinging hugely on Chastain’s magnificently obsessive performance, this could very easily have been a stereotypical machinating hardass, but she gives the character an essential humanism, making us pity Elizabeth while simultaneously questioning her motives. A Capitol Hill ‘whodunnit’, Miss Sloane is very engaging – the back and forth between the characters is fast paced and intelligent (for the most part), and the twists and turns are both satisfying and occasionally gasp-worthy. A political thriller that could have done with a little more editing to trim some of that fat running time (132 minutes!), it’s nonetheless entertaining, and somehow manages to hold attention even in the overwrought third act.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Miss Sloane is released 12th May 2017